Glenn Maxwell century, Australia vs England final ODI

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One hundred and thirteen ODI games later, Glenn Maxwell remains Australia’s most confounding cricketer.

He’s often branded a luxury selection, the bloke you pick with no idea whether he’ll contribute nothing or everything.

The Victorian is pigeon-holed as the guy you want batting only when the going is good, yet just saved Australia in a time of peril.

His ODI-best innings of 108 (90 balls) against England in a series-deciding victory on Thursday (AEST) was pure Maxwell. He hit feared paceman Jofra Archer for six over cow corner on the third ball he faced, with Australia on the ropes at 5-74.

It was a majestic hitting display, featuring seven sixes and a strike rate of 120. There was a let-off when he was dropped by Jos Buttler on 44, yet to some degree the innings married explosiveness with responsibility, never regarded as Maxwell’s forte.

That’s the thing with Maxwell. He just bats and does it his way, almost irrespective of the situation.

He admitted that he did not walk on to Old Trafford with anything but aggressive conquest in his head, despite Australia’s series hopes hanging by a thread; he rated it a “hit or bust” job. He planned to bat deep into the innings and was thoughtful about preferred hitting zones, certainly, but intended to canter rather than trot.

And the proof is there: when Maxwell has a day, Australia usually win.

“It probably wasn’t an ideal situation at the start when I came in but being the last [specialist] batter, I suppose I had a bit of a licence to go for it from the start,” Maxwell said, after the highest ODI run chase seen at Manchester (7-305).

“Luckily enough, I hit the ball pretty consistently at the start of my innings and was able to run on from a bit of momentum there.

“I’m trusting my technique at the moment. It doesn’t look, I suppose, traditional; it’s a bit different being a bit opened-up but I just feel really calm at the crease.

“I think the way I played fast-bowling’s been a massive change in my game; I’m a lot more still at the crease, there’s not as much moving around. I think that’s been a key to a little bit more success.”

Such innings are exactly why Maxwell keeps getting picked. It’s the times where his approach hasn’t worked that have kept his career ODI average at 33.29 and his place in the Australian team only semi-permanent.

“Outstanding striker of the ball, he really is,” former England captain Nasser Hussain said on post-match, highlighting Maxwell’s assault on elite spinner Adil Rashid (1-68); who he launched for three sixes before eventually falling to the leggie.

“I thought he was very smart tonight; sometimes he just goes a little bit early. He waited for Rashid to toss it up outside off-stump and then he gave it the absolute kitchen sink. It was outstanding batting, it really was.

“I think it’s the sort of innings that Australia have been waiting for for a long time from Glenn Maxwell.

“We had Stuart Broad with us the other day and Stuart went, ‘He gets a lot of stick, Glenn Maxwell, but I’d hate to bowl at him because of what he can do’.

“When bowlers fear him, you can see why Australia keep picking him and keep giving him this role as a finisher. Someone just as a little bit of a trump card; ‘You just go and do whatever you want to do but be smart about it’. I thought he was smarter tonight.”

Maxwell earned man of the match and series honours as he combined for a 212-run partnership with fellow centurion Alex Carey (106). It was the highest sixth-wicket ODI partnership for Australia and the third-biggest in cricket history.

Maxwell just handed ODI world champions England their first loss in a bilateral one-day series at home since 2015. He was the main man in reversing a 5-0 whitewash for Australia in the last such series, in England two years ago. He made 77 in Australia’s win in the series opener, again the top-scorer.

His World Cup campaign in England last year was poor: 177 runs at 22.12 from 10 matches, with a best of 46 not out. It was the latest dip in his stocks, four years on from a World Cup masterclass in which he flayed Sri Lanka for 102 in the fastest ODI century by an Australian (51 balls).

Maxwell batted No.5 in that game, coming in with just 18 overs remaining. It was a breathtaking innings, yet he hadn’t made another ODI century until the England triumph; two tons from 113 matches, despite his exceptional talent. There have been years of ongoing confusion about his best role in the Australian team.

Should he bat No.4? Should he bat No.7? Australian coach Justin Langer insisted on the latter while debate raged around him and got a measure of vindication in England, where Maxwell starred at No.7. Langer loves Maxwell’s talent but has long been conflicted by his inconsistency.

Maxwell revealed that he and Australian limited-overs captain Aaron Finch had spent quality time during the COVID-19 lockdown trying to more clearly define his batting role. They landed on a job defined by freedom: in good times, hit the opposition out of the game, in tough times, counter-attack.

It seems that Australia is done with trying to change Maxwell, instead hoping to encourage his volatile skills to erupt more frequently.

“The really good thing is even in the lockdown period I was training with Finchy and we were able to talk about my role and certain things,” Maxwell said, per Cricinfo.com.

“I just had so much clarity of what he expected of me in that role.

“I think I was able to take the game on, with the clarity he gave me before the tournament, and was able to ride on that momentum as well. Just knowing I had the backing of him is awesome.”

The main concern around Maxwell has been getting him enough time in the middle to turn the match, in the right circumstances. Australian legend Shane Warne, a strong advocate of that philosophy, said that Maxwell remained an uncertain prospect when asked to bat responsibly, even after watching his match-winning century.

Warne reckons that Maxwell is now batting in the right spot, as far as such a maddening talent has any natural position.

“They’ve tried him in a few different positions. I think his best role is at No.7, as a floater,” Warne said post-match on .

“I think ideally, they’re so good at the top with Finch and Warner and Stoinis and then Labuschagne, that if they can get off to a flyer or a good start, Maxwell’s your floater. Once it gets to that sort of 30-over mark, in you go, Glenn Maxwell.

“Unfortunately with a couple of the collapses that they’ve had, he’s had to go in and play like a batsman, without that freedom.

“Then he’s got responsibility and pressure on him, which I think he’s still good, but it’s better if he’s got that freedom to just go out and play. I think that’s why he’s better at No.7 and used as a floater.”

Australia has been waiting a long time for Maxwell to become that little bit more than what he is; a sure bet rather than a punt. Nearly 32, time is growing short for him to evolve and shed the ‘Big Show’ persona he loathes.

The signs have long been there that he’s capable of more, relentlessly teasing his ardent fans. His lone Test century was no joke; he joined Steve Smith at the crease at 4-140 in Ranchi, amid an India series tied at 1-1, and toughed-out 104 from 185 balls, showing patience and poise.

He played just three Test matches afterwards and last donned the baggy green three years ago. He desperately wants to resume his Test career but has little except that Ranchi ton to fall back on, with an average of 27.06 from seven matches; though every match he’s played has been abroad.

When Maxwell is good, he is priceless, because his extremely quick scoring carries the load for teammates. Wicketkeeper-batsman Alex Carey was in dismal form heading into the England ODI decider, yet was able to scratch through the early stages of his innings thanks to Maxwell’s strike rate.

There was some debate about whether Carey should be dropped for the series finale. Carey is rated the next Test keeper and a potential Australian captain, meaning ill-form is a headache Aussie selectors are desperate to avoid.

Maxwell helped him to a maiden ODI century in a high-pressure situation, allowing Carey to take a more cautious approach in his 114-ball innings.

“With Maxwell at the other end taking the pressure off him, he didn’t mind a few dot balls because Maxwell hit seven sixes,” Warne said.

“That allowed Carey to play like this, with a bit of freedom; it gave him the confidence also to start playing his shots. I think towards the end, he’s really started to find his rhythm.

“An in-form Alex Carey is very good for the Australian side. It’s a left-hander again, which helps in those middle overs, and it was terrific to see him get a hundred after he probably hasn’t been in the best of form.”

Finch highlighted Maxwell’s value to the team after his century. Few can bat like him, yet he has always performed at that dizzying level too infrequently.

The Australian team has embraced the enigma while trying to coax out more. At Maxwell’s age, perhaps they will keep nudging him towards another World Cup appearance, mindful of his unique – if erratic – match-winning qualities.

“Maxi is in the team to do a specific role and that’s be able to take the game awy from oppositions when you’re having a good day, but also be that guy who can counter-attack and try to swing momentum in change rooms,” Finch said.

“I think England had all the momentum at 5-70-odd and he (Maxwell) just dragged it back. That partnership with Alex was fantastic, I’m really proud of both of them. They deserve a lot of success and a of of credit, not just for this win but for how hard they’ve been working on their game, is paying off.

“What makes him (Maxwell) so damaging is he can play all around the ground. I don’t think that there’s many bowlers in the world that can trouble him when he’s having one of those days.

“But the way that he navigated that innings and took it deeper and deeper … and of course you have to take your chances when you’re chasing seven an over from a long way out, and he did that perfectly.

“That partnership was fantastic, I think they fed off each other having the left and right-hand combination. It was pretty special.”